By Lynette Summerill
If you are familiar with Barbie, and you'd have to live under a rock not to be, (she is sold in more than 150 countries and has represented 45 nationalities) you'd know she has had many careers spanning medicine, education, public service and politics.
Now Barbie is going to war, and some say for a good cause.
I'm not talking about traditional warfare here, although Barbie has seen her share of those types of battles too. She has served in every branch of the U.S. military and saw combat during Desert Storm.
No, Barbie is taking on the war of stereotypes and social norms, which some might argue is odd since they'd say she has been reinforcing them since her conception 53 years ago.
Toy company giant Mattel, the maker of Barbie - one of the most popular toys ever made - announced it will make a limited edition of the doll beginning in 2013 and this time she will be bald.
The "Bald and Beautiful Barbie" is the brainchild of Jane Bingham and Becki Sypin, two social media warriors who started a global movement on Facebook to get the bald Barbie doll made.
On Feb. 2, 2012, the campaign organizers met with Mattel officials who announced privately they'd get their Bald Barbie after all. The official public announcement came March 22 on Mattel's Facebook page.
While the viral Bald and Beautiful Barbie campaign is a success by any stretch of the imagination, Jane Bingham calls it "only a partial victory."
The toy giant announced a one-time production of 10,000 bald Barbies would be made and donated to the National Association of Children's Hospitals in the U.S. and Canada and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF).
Wanting a tressless Barbie isn't merely a whim, it's deeply personal for many women and children who deal with uncomfortable stares and the feeling of being outsiders. After all, Barbie may be more than just a doll. She is arguably, the icon of female beauty and the American dream.
"We really wanted the doll to be mass-produced so baldness could become more socially acceptable. For us, the doll is a tool to promote awareness. Right now it's not socially accepted for women and children to be bald. For men it is trendy, for women and children it's strange. A person's self worth shouldn't be dependent on having hair," Jane Bingham said.
The organizers fear the limited edition Barbie will create a situation where the dolls will be scooped up by collectors rather than be played with and enjoyed. With more than 12,000 children diagnosed annually with cancer and 5 million with alopecia in the United States alone, the limited number of dolls produced will scarcely match the demand.
"Anytime there is a product that makes a child with alopecia areata feel included, like they have a place in this world, it helps their self esteem," said Gary Sherwood, NAAF communications director. "We are definitely behind this endeavor and are very pleased to be included Mattel's plans."
Dr. Kristina Zosuls, an expert on gender and social identity development and assistant research professor in Arizona State University's School of Social and Family Dynamics has studied how toy play can affect children going through medical treatments.
Dr. Zosuls said that when children as young as 3 years old see themselves in their toys it can affect their gender identity development and feelings of self worth.
Several past academic studies have shown when children play with toys representing their self-image, it reinforces their value in society. This concept is known as Mirror Exposure.
Conversely, children not exposed to toys representative of themselves often perceive themselves as being invisible and without value. In other words, as human beings, we all tend to feel invisible and outside the norm when are not part of the range of what society tells us is beautiful.
Gary Sherwood said that from his experience working with kids who have alopecia areata, if the child's community is supportive of him or her and they are accepted by peers, they are much more likely to lead a completely normal life. Children who are viewed by their peers as "weird" tend to operate socially as outsiders, and are more likely to have low self esteem that can persist into adulthood.
"The Bald Barbie certainly has the ability to normalize baldness," says Dr. Zosuls. "Social science has shown us what is familiar to us often becomes beautiful, and the more we are exposed to something, the more we like it."
However Dr. Zosuls says the Bald and Beautiful Barbie may also present a darker side for children. The sexualization of Barbie may not be helping young girls gain self-esteem that isn't tied to their physical beauty. The message here could be "sure you are bald and still beautiful, but what is being reinforced is the importance of beauty in determining the value of women."
Mattel officials haven't spoken publically about the bald Barbie, but made this comment March 29 on Facebook. "Thank you for all the positive comments regarding our recent announcement of planned doll donations to children's hospitals. We truly appreciate the feedback and hope you will take the time to learn how Mattel is working to make a meaningful difference to children in need around the world."
Mattel insiders say the Bald and Beautiful Barbie may be mass-produced if there is enough interest in the doll.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Mattel Barbie Toy Facts. eHow.com. Available at:
Mattel Facebook Page:
Interview with Jane Bingham. 11 April 11, 2012.
Interview with Gary Sherwood. 11 April 11, 2012.
Interview with Dr. Christina Zosuls. 17 April 2012.
Reviewed April 19, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
By Lynette Summerill